2014 Football Season Preview Series - Top Special Teams ReturnersAugust 7, 2014
Top Offensive Returners – Top Defensive Returners
Offense may sell tickets and defense may win championships but it is often times the playmakers on Special Teams that are the difference between winning and losing. The NJCAA has seen a steady rise in the amount of talent teams are producing in the kicking, punting and return game.
They may not grab the headlines or garner the recognition from prospect rankings but numerous players that are vital to their team’s success will be coming back this year for their sophomore season.
Despite the small number of placekickers that advance their collegiate football career past the two-year level, the NJCAA’s elite legs have gone on to do extraordinary things at the four-year
and professional levels – see Atlanta Falcons record-breaking kicker Matt Bryant. This year’s
class of returners includes a few kickers that have that potential.
Following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Dan Hamilton (right) is quickly racking up the
points at Iowa Western. As a freshman, Hamilton connected on 17-of-21 field goal attempts and was near-perfect on PATs hitting 58-of-59. Hamilton’s target this season will be the NJCAA
single-season record of 142 kicking points, set by former Reivers kicker Lance Irvin in 2012.
The strongest leg in this year’s returning group may belong to Rochester’s Ruan Albuquerque who nailed a 51-yard field goal last season. The only other returning kicker to make a field goal from at least 50 yards out last season is Chris Boteler from Dean.
Navarro’s Carlos Macias enters 2014 as the only sophomore kicker in the NJCAA with a perfect field goal mark. He hit on all 11 of his attempts last season for the Bulldogs.
Click here for a list of top returning Kickers.
Often times the unsung hero, punters have the ability to be an X-factor for their team. With the potential to flip the field with one swing of their leg, several essential punters are coming back in 2014.
Perhaps the most powerful punter in the NJCAA last season will be back in action this year as Dayton Balvanz returns to Ellsworth. Balvanz led the nation in 2013 with 3,223 net punting yards, averaging 47.4 yards per punt. His longest of the season was a 77-yard boot that settled as the fourth-longest in the land.
Consistency and accuracy however, can often outweigh the benefits of a strong leg. Itawamba
was able to pin their opponents back deep in their own territory all season thanks to their punter, Jeb Millender (right). Averaging 41.0 yards per punt on the year, Millender landed 27 punts inside the 20-yard line – most in the nation.
Outside of Balvanz and Millender, the NJCAA will see four other punters return that averaged at least 40 yards per punt in 2013 and three of them belong to the WSFL. They include Snow’s Nick Porebski, Glendale’s Kolby Gregory and A.J. Thigpen from Phoenix.
Click here for a list of top returning Punters.
The ability of coverage units to limit game-breaking plays on special teams has shown steady progress over the past decade which has placed an even stronger emphasis on skill players in the return game. As the speed and agility of players continues to climb, expect these sophomore return specialists to have an impact in 2014.
Navarro’s Mikechell Potts is the nation’s only returning player to cross the goal line multiple
times on special teams. He returned two punts for touchdowns last season and averaged 14.9 yards on 26 returns. At 5 foot 6 inches, Potts’ small frame makes him a hard target to catch for opposing gunners.
Despite his limited number of returns in college – seven during the 2013 season – Olu Izegwire (right) established himself as a playmaker for ASA. Izegwire averaged 43.7 yards per kick return last year and even took one the distance for the Avengers.
The MACJC should be an entertaining conference to keep an eye on with a myriad of talented returners coming back. Pearl River’s Charles Ducksworth, Northwest Mississippi’s Marcel Newson and East Mississippi’s Kameron Myers all took kickoffs back for touchdowns in 2013.
Click here for a list of top returning Kick Returners.
Click here for a list of top returning Punt Returners.